Iraq: 1,000 days of war
- From Shock and Awe to a country torn between insurrection and
Iraq: 1,000 days of war
By Patrick Cockburn in Baghdad
13 December 2005
It has been the strangest war. A thousand days ago, on 20 March
2003, the US and British armies started a campaign which ended a few
weeks later with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
It seemed so easy. President George Bush announced that the war was
over. The American mission had been accomplished. Months passed
before Washington and London realised that the war had not finished.
In fact it was only just beginning. Of the 18,000 US servicemen
killed or wounded in Iraq, 94 per cent have been killed or wounded
since the fall of Baghdad.
There is no sign that the election for the 275-member Iraqi
parliament this Thursday will end the fighting. The Sunni Arabs, the
core of the insurrection, will vote for the first time, but there is
no talk of a ceasefire. A leaflet issued by one resistance group in
Baghdad yesterday encouraged its followers to vote but warned: "The
fighting will continue with the infidels and their followers."
It was such a strange war because the US began a conflict in 2003 to
change radically the Middle East, the most volatile and dangerous
region in the world. This was in complete contrast to the first Gulf
War in 1991, when the main war aim of President George Bush Snr was
to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait and restore the status quo.
There was a further sharp difference between the two wars. Mr Bush
Snr had expended enormous effort in creating an international
coalition under the UN to fight Iraq. His son, by way of contrast,
seemed to revel in isolation. He made the Iraq war the supreme test
of American military and political strength. The US would fight it
alone, aside from Britain tagging along behind, and win it alone. It
did not need allies outside or even inside Iraq. The insurgents
received vital if covert assistance from abroad, but the rebellion
against the US occupation was always essentially home-grown.
Disillusionment with their liberators set in among Iraqis almost as
soon as the American troops captured the capital in April 2003. The
poor poured out of the slums of Baghdad in a frenzy of destruction
and theft. Everything was looted, even the stuffed animals in the
natural history museum.
Iraqis expected much from the fall of Saddam. They had endured 23
years of war and sanctions. The Iraqi armed forcessimply packed up
and went home. Nobody wanted to die for the old regime. Instead they
hoped to enjoy the fruits of their oil wealth for the first time and
begin to live like Kuwaitis or Saudis.
Instead the US installed a colonial regime. Iraqis were marginalised
and their opinions ignored. Iraqi professionals with PhDs and fluent
in several languages found themselves being ordered about by young
Americans whose only qualification was links to the Republican
Party. The army and security services were dissolved. The five
million-strong Sunni community was enraged. The first attacks on US
patrols and vehicles began. Whenever I visited the site of an ambush
I saw young Iraqi men dancing in jubilation around the blazing
By November 2004 a serious guerrilla war was under way. The 140,000-
strong US Army was hopelessly ill-equipped for such a conflict. Once
I saw an American artillery unit trying to quell a fist fight among
Iraqi drivers in a queue at a petrol station. They had brought with
them an enormous howitzer designed to fire a shell 30km because they
had nowhere to store it.
The face of Baghdad began to change. The symbol of the new regime
was the concrete block, enormous obstacles to car bombs looking like
gigantic grey tombstones. Walls of them sealed off the Green Zone in
the centre of Baghdad where the US and Britain had established their
The suicide bombers began to make their terrifying impact. Nobody
was safe. The UN headquarters was reduced to a heap of rubble, as
was the building housing the Red Cross. Iraqi police stations and US
positions were all hastily fortified. On some days there were a
dozen attacks. Later they fell in number, but became more
sophisticated, with one bomber trying to blast a way through the
concrete walls so the second could reach the targeted building.
People in Baghdad and the centre of Iraq lived in perpetual terror
of suicide bombers, kidnappers, Iraqi army and US troops. The roads
to the capital were all cut by insurgents or bandits. Better-off
Iraqis, fearful of kidnappers who preyed on their children, fled to
Jordan, Syria and Egypt. In the face of Sunni Arab attack, the US
relied more and more on the two other great Iraqi communities. The
Shia make up 60 per cent of the population and the Kurds 20 per
cent. Some Iraqi leaders had an acute perception of the American
dilemma in Iraq. "Let them try to run the country without us and
they will see what trouble they will be in," said a Kurdish leader
in the summer of 2003. "Then they will come running to us for our
Last year the US learnt that it could contain but could not suppress
the Sunni insurrection. This year has seen Iraq slowly coming under
the control of a Kurdish-Shia alliance whose authority is likely to
be reaffirmed by the election on Thursday.
Iraq at the moment is an extraordinary patchwork with conditions
varying in every part of the country. Kurdistan is more prosperous
than at any time in its history. The skylines of its cities are
crowded with cranes. In Baghdad there is hardly any sign of
construction, and richer districts are often inhabited only by armed
security guards. Their inhabitants have fled.
A BBC poll yesterday showed that half of those questioned say that
Iraq needs a strong leader, while only 28 per cent cited democracy
as a priority. But it would be a mistake to think that Iraqis could
agree on the same strong leader. The Sunni would like a strong man
to put the Shia in their place, and the Shia feel likewise that the
priority for a powerful leader would be dealing with the Sunni.
Iraqis are cynical about their political leaders. The election
results are likely to show that the great majority of Iraqis will
vote along ethnic or religious lines as Shia, Sunni or Kurds. The
country is turning from a unitary state into a confederation.
There is no sign yet of the thousand-day war ending. Every month up
to a thousand fresh corpses arrive at the mortuary in Baghdad. A new
Iraq is emerging but it is already drenched in blood.
The Bogus Blurring of Terrorism and Insurgency in Iraq
by Norman Solomon
With public support for the Iraq war at low ebb, the White House is
more eager than ever to conflate Iraq's insurgency with terrorism.
But last week, just after President Bush gave yet another speech
repeatedly depicting the U.S. war effort in Iraq as a battle against
terrorists, Rep. John Murtha debunked the claim. His refutation
deserved much more news coverage than it got.
"You heard the president talk today about terrorism," Murtha told
reporters at a Dec. 7 news conference. "Every other word
was 'terrorism.'" Speaking as a lawmaker in close touch with the
Pentagon's top military leaders, he went on to confront the core of
the administration's current argument for keeping American soldiers
"Let's talk about terrorism versus insurgency in Iraq itself,"
Murtha said. "We think that foreign fighters are about 7 percent --
might be a little bit more, a little bit less. Very small proportion
of the people that are involved in the insurgency are terrorists or
how I would interpret them as terrorists."
Murtha threw cold water on the storyline that presents U.S. troops
as defenders of Iraqis. He cited a recent poll, commissioned by
Britain's Ministry of Defense, indicating that four-fifths of Iraqis
now want the American and British forces out of their country. "When
I said we can't win a military victory, it's because the Iraqis have
turned against us," Murtha said.
Contrary to what countless pundits still contend, Murtha sees the
U.S. presence in Iraq as a boon, not an impediment, to terrorism. "I
am convinced, and everything that I've read, the conclusion I've
reached is there will be less terrorism, there will be less danger
to the United States and it'll be less insurgency once we're out,"
he said. "I think the Iraqis themselves will turn against this very
small group of Al Qaeda. They keep saying the terrorists are going
to control Iraq. No way."
The relatively small number of Al Qaeda forces in Iraq will become
isolated when the deeply resented occupiers leave Iraq, he
predicted, and actual terrorists will no longer find a haven among
During his presentation about the importance of distinguishing
between terrorism and insurgency, Murtha was directly admonishing
the White House. But what he said could also serve as a reality
check for news media. All too often -- without attribution to any
source -- reporters have asserted that the U.S. military actions in
Iraq are part of a "war on terror." And journalists have routinely
failed to include any perspectives that challenge the view, avidly
promoted by the Bush administration, that the fighters doing battle
with American forces in Iraq are, by definition, terrorists.
In a typical news report from Baghdad, airing on "All Things
Considered" early this month, NPR correspondent Anne Garrels
presented the U.S. government line as the only one worth mentioning.
During the Dec. 2 broadcast, she described recent American
offensives and then told listeners: "The military says its actions
have resulted in numerous terrorists killed or detained, as well as
the discovery of a large number of weapons caches."
The Bush administration is glad to define a "terrorist" as anyone
who uses violence against occupation troops. And many U.S. news
outlets parrot the claim. But that is flagrant manipulation of
Solomon is the author of the new book "War Made Easy: How Presidents
and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." For information, go to:
Iraq Under U.S. Occupation: "It Was Never As Bad As This"
by Anthony Arnove
When U.S. and coalition troops invaded Iraq in March 2003, many
Iraqis hoped that at least their conditions of life would improve--
after a decade and a half of living under the strictest system of
economic sanctions ever known. Now, they know different. "I believed
when they said they came to help us," said Hossein Ibrahim in an
interview with a Christian Science Monitor reporter. "But now I hate
them, they are worse than Saddam."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
LIFE IN occupied Iraq today is so grim that many Iraqis say it was
better during the deadly years of United Nations sanctions and
Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. In much of the country, there is less
electricity than before the March 2003 U.S. invasion--with
predictable consequences, including "patients who die in emergency
rooms when equipment stops running," the New York Times reports.
Despite the billions handed for reconstruction work to George W.
Bush's friends at Bechtel and Halliburton, "[n]early half of all
Iraqi households still don't have access to clean water, and only 8
percent of the country, excluding the capital, is connected to
sewage networks," USA Today reports.
Hospitals in Iraq are a shambles. "At Baghdad's Central Teaching
Hospital for Children, gallons of raw sewage wash across the
floors," Jeffrey Gettleman reported in the New York Times. "The
drinking water is contaminated. According to doctors, 80 percent of
patients leave with infections they did not have when they arrived."
"It's definitely worse now than before the war," Eman Asim, who
oversees 185 public hospitals, told the Times. "Even at the height
of sanctions, when things were miserable, it wasn't as bad as this."
Unemployment has skyrocketed, in large part because of decisions
made by the occupation authorities.
After the invasion, L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition
Provisional Authority in Iraq, disbanded Iraq's 350,000-person army
and fired thousands of state workers who were members of the Baath
Party--despite the fact that party membership was required for most
jobs in Iraq. More than half of Iraqi workers are unemployed, and
Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari has announced plans to shred more
public-sector jobs as the Iraqi government carries out the
privatization plans written by U.S. economists.
"Liberated" Iraqis repeatedly have noted the irony that the U.S.
occupation authorities and the contractors working on lucrative no-
bid and cost-plus contracts don't trust Iraqis to work for them, and
instead are paying millions of dollars to import foreign workers who
earn many times the average Iraqi's annual income. "[W]hen the full
history of this bloody circus is written, people will look back
slack-jawed at the scale and brazenness of the occupation's
corruption and incompetence," journalist Christian Parenti writes in
The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq.
Of the $18.4 billion Congress appropriated for "reconstruction" in
Iraq, less than half has been spent, and some $100 million has
disappeared without any accounting, according to the Los Angeles
Instead of rebuilding Iraq, money is flowing to corporate friends of
the Bush administration. "[M]ore than 150 U.S. companies were
awarded contracts totaling more than $50 billion, more than twice
the GDP of Iraq," writes researcher Antonia Juhasz. "Halliburton has
the largest, worth more than $11 billion, while 13 other U.S.
companies are earning more than $1.5 billion each. These contractors
answer to the U.S. government not the Iraqi people."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THIS PRINCIPLE of accountability applies to every aspect of the
occupation of Iraq. Real authority rests not with Iraqis, but with
occupation forces. As the Pakistani writer Tariq Ali points out in
Bush in Babylon, we are seeing in Iraq a clear example
of "imperialism in the epoch of neoliberal economics."
The Coalition Provisional Authority renewed the anti-worker trade
union laws of the Hussein regime and lowered taxes on business in
Iraq to levels only dreamed about by U.S. corporations.
"The Bush administration has drafted sweeping plans to remake Iraq's
economy in the U.S. image," the Wall Street Journal reported soon
after the invasion began. As New York Times economics columnist Jeff
Madrick points out, the economic plans for Iraq are likely to
cause "widespread cruelty."
In addition to economic insecurity, physical insecurity for ordinary
Iraqis has greatly increased. Women who formerly worked as educators
or doctors now speak of being imprisoned in their homes, afraid to
leave. They see hard-won social and political rights being eroded.
Children who formerly attended school are now kept at home by
parents fearful of sending them out in public.
And at any moment, Iraqis know their doors may be battered down by
U.S. or British troops, with family members humiliated, arrested and
taken off to be detained, tortured or murdered.
Dexter Filkins of the New York Times opened a window into the
reality of occupation in an October 2005 profile of Lt. Col. Nathan
Sassaman, an aggressive Army captain of the Fourth Infantry
Division's 1-8 Battalion. After the death of a soldier in the unit,
Sassaman declared that his unit's "new priority would be killing
insurgents and punishing anyone who supported them, even people who
As Filkins wrote, "On a mission in January 2004, a group of
Sassaman's soldiers came to the house of an Iraqi man suspected of
hijacking trucks. He wasn't there, but his wife and two other women
answered the door. 'You have 15 minutes to get your furniture out,'
First Sgt. Ghaleb Mikel said. The women wailed and shouted, but
ultimately complied, dragging their bed and couch and television set
out the front door. Mikel's men then fired four antitank missiles
into their house, blowing it to pieces and setting it afire." As
Mikel explained, "It's called the 'leave no refuge' policy."
U.S. soldiers have also taken to quartering troops in Iraqi homes
and schools. "Requisitioning homes or other buildings has been
widespread in Iraq for U.S. troops on missions who stay far away
from bases, sometimes for several days or weeks," the Associated
"They broke into my house before Ramadan and they are still there,"
Dhiya Hamid al-Karbuli recounted to a reporter. "We were not able to
tolerate seeing them damage our house in front of our very eyes...I
was afraid to ask them to leave." "Marines have been making camp in
seized houses," the New York Times reported from Husayba, the site
of a major assault in November 2005, in which "[f]ighter jets
streaked overhead, dropping 500-pound bombs" on the town.
Neither the Associated Press nor the Times seemed to have remembered
that the quartering of troops was one of the primary complaints of
American colonists against King George and the British--as described
in the Declaration of Independence: "He has affected to render the
Military independent of and superior to the Civil power. He has
combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our
constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to
their Acts of pretended Legislation: For Quartering large bodies of
armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from
punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the
Inhabitants of these States..."
But the feelings of Iraqis don't really matter in U.S. calculations.
As Col. Stephen Davis, of the Second Marine Division, who headed the
Husayba assault, explained, "We don't do a lot of hearts and minds
out here, because it's irrelevant."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
EVERY DAY, people are being harassed, killed, arrested and tortured
only for the crime of being Iraqi.
A Red Cross investigation found that the U.S. military has engaged
in a "pattern of indiscriminate arrests involving destruction of
property and brutal behavior towards suspects and their families" in
Iraq. "Sometimes, they arrested all adult males present in a house,"
the report states, "including elderly, handicapped or sick people."
Of the people detained at Abu Ghraib prison, even U.S. military
intelligence officers estimated that 70 to 90 percent were
arrested "by mistake."
U.S. soldiers have been trained to view Iraqis--just like they were
once trained to view the people of Vietnam--as less than human.
Soldiers call Iraqis "hajis," just as they once called the
A clear message has been given to troops from the highest levels of
political and military authority: Iraqi deaths and Iraqi suffering
do not matter.
A recent Human Rights Watch investigation found that U.S. military
personnel routinely torture Iraqis for "sport." The investigation
documented widespread use of torture, "often under orders or with
the approval of superior officers."
Soldiers in the 82nd Airborne described beating Iraqis "to amuse
themselves." "Sergeant A," from the 82nd Airborne Division, told
Human Rights Watch how occupation troops would routinely "fuck a
PUC" or "smoke a PUC" (a "PUC" is a "Person Under Control," a term
used to differentiate Iraqi detainees from prisoners of war, who
have legal protections the Bush administration does not want to
"To 'Fuck a PUC' means to beat him up," the sergeant said. "We would
give them blows to the head, chest, legs and stomach, pull them
down, kick dirt on them. This happened every day. To 'smoke' someone
is to put them in stress positions until they get muscle fatigue and
pass out. That happened every day. Some days, we would just get
bored, so we would have everyone sit in a corner and then make them
get in a pyramid. This was before Abu Ghraib, but just like it. We
did that for amusement."
Torture is just one symptom of an occupation that constantly shows
contempt for the people it claims to have liberated. U.S. forces
have engaged in numerous prohibited forms of collective punishment
against the Iraqi population.
Though the United States refuses to count the number of dead Iraqis,
an October 2004 study by The Lancet, Britain's leading medical
journal, estimated 98,000 "excess deaths" in Iraq in the aftermath
of the U.S. invasion. This figure is actually conservative, as it
excludes deaths in the "mortality cluster of Falluja"--the site of
some of the deadliest U.S. military attacks. According to the
survey, "The risk of death from violence in the period after the
invasion was 58 times higher...than in the period before the war."
Under these conditions, it is no surprise that strong majorities of
Iraqis view U.S. troops not as liberators but as occupiers.
Meanwhile, the death toll has also continued to climb for U.S.
soldiers, and is now more than 2,000. Injuries are also mounting.
One in six soldiers returning from Iraq reports experiencing
symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, leading to high rates of
depression and suicide. Soldiers who came to Iraq believing they
were protecting the world from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or
liberating Iraqis now find they are instead being asked to subjugate
a population that does not want them there.
"[W]hen I first went to Iraq, I actually believed what the
government was saying, that we were searching for weapons of mass
destruction, we were making the country safe for democracy, and
things like that," one soldier who applied for conscientious
objector status recently told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! "But
when we got there, I quickly found another story. I very quickly
found that the Iraqis didn't want us there...If soldiers had come
into our country and had invaded us and had come into our homes,
then I would have fought back, too."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
THE ONLY way to liberate Iraq today is to end the occupation, and
bring the troops home now. To do so, we'll have to challenge all the
racist lies that Iraqis are incapable of running their own country,
or that the United States must remain in Iraq to confront "the
terrorists." This war has nothing to do with terrorism or
liberation. From the beginning, it has been about oil and its role
in sustaining the United States as a global capitalist empire.
Racism has been used to sell the war to a public, but people are
increasingly seeing through the lies.
Today, a clear majority of people in the United States now believe
the invasion of Iraq wasn't worth the consequences and should never
have been undertaken. A Washington Post-ABC poll this month found
that "Bush has never been less popular with the American people." In
a September New York Times-CBS News poll, support for immediate
withdrawal stood at 52 percent. Seventy-nine percent of African-
Americans think the war in Iraq was mistake. Approval of President
Bush among African-Americans is 2 percent, a statistical anomaly.
Millions of people sympathize with the aims of the antiwar movement,
but have not yet been mobilized for actions. We need to involve
these wider audiences in our movements, and to connect local actions
with coordinated national actions that can help people overcome the
pervasive sense of isolation and atomization that so many feel.
As with the movement to end the war on Vietnam, we will have to
fight on many fronts: supporting counter-recruitment, confronting
government and military officials about the human costs of this war
and the lies they use to justify it, exposing war profiteers,
encouraging and protecting soldiers who speak out and who resist
their orders or service, working with veterans and military families-
-and all along arguing, patiently yet urgently, with everyone around
us that we need to end the occupation now.
ANTHONY ARNOVE is the editor of the South End Press collection Iraq
Under Siege, and co-author, with Howard Zinn, of Voices of a
People's History of the United States. His latest book, Iraq: The
Logic of Withdrawal, will be published by the New Press next spring.
Here, Anthony looks at the racist logic of the U.S. occupation of
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